Flagellants (from Latin ftagellum, a whip), a sect of fanatics who arose in the Middle Ages, and sought by their self-inflicted castigations to atone for the impiety of the age. Their custom was to march in procession from town to town, in garments of sackcloth with the back and shoulders left bare, carrying crucifixes in their hands or wearing the image of the cross woven on their caps. On arriving at a town they resorted to the market-place, where they prostrated themselves on the ground in the form of a cross, while each in turn lashed the others with a knotted scourge until the blood flowed. Meanwhile they never ceased their wild hymns, in which they denounced the wickedness of men and sought the forgiveness of Heaven. Each member pursued this course for 33 days - the number of the years during which Christ lived on earth. They first appeared at Perugia in Italy in 1260, whence they spread into many parts of Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, and France. As the movement extended, they adopted the most heretical tenets, rejecting the sacraments, and maintaining that the blood shed by them was as effectual as that of the Saviour in the remission of sin. On the outbreak of the Black Death the enthusiasm of the sect greatly increased, especially in Germany. In 1349 they made their appearance in England, but they never gained any firm hold in this country. A bull was issued against them by
Clement VI., and we hear little more of them till 1414, when the Flegler arose in Saxony under the leadership of Conrad Schmidt. This outburst was even more extravagant than the preceding one; Schmidt claimed to be divinely inspired, and denied the authority of the Church, but he and his comrades were seized and burnt, The doctrines of the Flagellants were condemned in the Council of Constance, and soon afterwards they disappear completely from history.